By Brent Kennedy, firstname.lastname@example.org
11:36 AM EDT, October 11, 2012
The message sprawls out across Pat Moore's back like a beacon of hope — a permanent reminder that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel.
'There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from.'
Eight months removed from a car accident that left him in a coma for three days, Moore clings to those words tattooed just above his right shoulder blade. They assure him that although he may never be the same again, that doesn't mean he can't move forward.
The truth is, considering the nature of the crash Feb. 21 between the Honda CRV in which Moore was riding as a backseat passenger and the empty school bus traveling westbound on Route 40, he's lucky to simply be alive.
"Back in June, I was reading articles online about surviving near-fatal crashes and ways to deal with them and I came across that quote, which really helped me start putting things in perspective," said Moore, a senior at Marriotts Ridge High School. "It really sums up everything that happened and keeps me focused on the future."
As of this past winter, Moore was certain that future was going to involve a soccer ball.
An athletic and technically gifted goalie, he was one of just two freshmen named to the varsity squad at Marriotts Ridge in 2009. "He was a shot stopper and he was fearless … he didn't play like he was younger than everyone else," Marriotts Ridge soccer coach Kevin Flynn said.
Moore went on to help the program rattle off three consecutive 2A state titles, serving as the team's starter in net for two of them. In Flynn's eyes, Moore had college soccer player written all over him.
That's what made that day in August this past summer so difficult. After meeting with neurology specialist Dr. Kevin Crutchfield, Moore's greatest fears were realized: His soccer career was officially over.
Severe brain trauma as a result of the accident left him too vulnerable for Crutchfield, or any other doctor, to clear him fit enough to return to the field.
"I asked my mom that day if I could get the tattoo on my back … it was something I felt like I needed," Moore said. "Of all the days since (the crash), that was probably the toughest."
'Wake up, wake up'
Nancy Moore was at home in her office when she heard the crash.
Since moving to the Turf Valley Overlook neighborhood seven years ago, she says she's heard roughly a half-dozen accidents at the intersection of Pebble Beach Drive and Route 40, which sits roughly a block away. Something about this one, though, was different.
"It was an odd sound because I didn't hear any screeching of brakes beforehand," she said.
So Moore, who spent nearly two decades as a pediatric nurse, felt the urge to go out for the first time and lend a helping hand. And as she moved closer to the crumpled car sitting in the middle of the road behind the school bus, the gravity of the situation began to set in.
Approaching the passenger side first, she immediately began trying to revive the boy in the front. It wasn't until several moments later, in the midst of the commotion, that she caught her first glimpse of the familiar sweatshirt in the back.
Pushing aside the side curtain airbag, her heart nearly stopped. Lying there unconscious on the back seat was her son, Pat.
"All of a sudden the nurse went out of me and the mom came in," she said. "I was just screaming over and over, 'Wake up, wake up.' "
Moments later Nancy Moore was pulled away, watching helplessly from the side of the road as medical personnel arrived and began attending to the three boys that had all been riding in the CRV. She continually asked for updates, but got nothing.
"They didn't reassure me at all, but honestly that may have been because they weren't in a position to," she said. "I knew it wasn't good, though, because Pat was completely limp when they took him off on the stretcher in the medevac."
He was flown to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore with what were described as life-threatening injuries.
"There was that feeling of not knowing what we were going to get … your mind starts fearing the worst," she said.
After meeting with doctors and seeing her son roughly two hours after the crash, the prognosis wasn't exactly positive. "They basically said 'The next 24 hours will tell,' " she recalled.
That night, roughly 40 friends and family came to the hospital to show their support. With Moore still unconscious, visitors weren't allowed in his room, although that didn't stop two of his best friends, Brad Martinelli and Ryan Miller.
"Ryan Miller and I snuck in … we had to see him," said Martinelli, a soccer teammate of Moore's since middle school. "It's hard to talk about, really. He was lying there all strapped up and you could barely see his face with the bandages and the tubes going down his throat.
"The worst part was there was nothing we could do."
Flynn, who was at the hospital that first night and nearly every other night for the next couple weeks, started playing the "what if" game. "You start thinking, 'If only I had called him into my office to talk,' … anything that would have kept him from being there at that moment."
It was an agonizingly long first 72 hours.
Hooked up to a ventilator, Moore was taken off medication every couple hours to undergo deep stimulus designed to elicit some kind of physical response — things like screaming in his ear or applying firm pressure on different parts of his body.
For those first three days, however, there was no response.
When you want something bad enough, sometimes the mind will play tricks on you.
Nancy Moore, who never left her son's side in the days immediately following the accident, recalls one such instance during those initial periods of deep stimulus.
"You're sitting there looking for something, anything," she said. "One time I thought he moved his hand, but the nurses said 'No, that was an involuntary reaction.' "
The fourth day, though, there was unmistakable progress.
"He finally wiggled a toe," she said. "It was something so small, but at that moment it was the biggest thing in the world."
Slowly, but surely, the milestones kept coming. Opening his eyes, shaking his head, raising his arm, waving, giving thumbs up, sitting up — all "little blessings," according to Nancy Moore.
By Feb. 28, a week after the accident, he was moved out of shock trauma and into the rehabilitation facility at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital.
He began communicating again, started physical therapy and by the second week in March his memory started to return.
"Every day I went back, there was something new," Martinelli said.
Moore started home schooling sessions at Mt. Washington March 10 and regained a full diet three days later.
Progress, though, didn't come without a price. Being an athlete, he says the area he naturally worked the hardest at was making positive strides physically.
To do that, safety precautions had to be taken every step of the way.
"Once I finally got out of the wheelchair, they basically put a leash on me," Moore said. "It was this belt you click around your waist and it has a rope off to the side that they hold to stabilize you so you don't fall. I hated that thing … I wanted to do whatever I could to get out of it."
By March 16, the walking belt was gone.
Moore says, aside from his own internal drive, the outpouring of support that surrounded him did wonders. His hospital room was filled with cards, notes and posters that seemed to come in daily from all different areas of the community.
"The amazing thing was that it wasn't just people from the Marriotts Ridge community sending things in … it was stuff from schools all over the county," Nancy Moore said.
By the second to last week in March, plans were being made for Pat to be discharged from the hospital. And on March 28, he got to go home. (The other two teenagers injured in the accident also recovered.)
"We were initially told that it would be a minimum of 12 weeks before he could go home," Nancy said. "They were all saying he was a miracle."
In a familiar setting, Pat was able to start piecing his life back together even quicker. After being home schooled throughout April, he was back in school at Marriotts Ridge by mid-May.
'Desperate to go back'
"He was desperate to go back," Nancy said. "I remember in rehab, early on when he was still in the wheelchair, I told him 'Don't worry, we have all the time in the world to get through this.' He said, 'No, I don't. I want to graduate with my friends.' "
As summer rolled around and some of the physical traits that had made Moore one of the county's top goalies began returning, thoughts of getting back on the field became more and more prevalent. And considering both his parents, Nancy and Stephen, come from a sports background, it was important to them that he be able to explore all his options.
The Howard County Public School system requires that a doctor medically clear each athlete before they are allowed to play. The decision for Moore ultimately was put into the hands of Crutchfield, who also works with athletes from the National Football League and Major League Soccer that have sustained severe head trauma.
Crutchfield ordered a CT scan, which revealed the devastating news. A large number of nerves in Moore's brain had been permanently severed during the accident, meaning that he can not withstand another blow to the head "without much more damage or disability," his mother said.
All contact sports, including soccer, were off the table.
Looking at Moore today, one would never know he'd been in an accident.
There are no scars — the two cuts on his face healed while he was in the hospital — and for the most part he moves around like he did before.
Yet, as Moore explains it, not having those external reminders of the crash often makes his current reality more frustrating.
"It sounds awful, but if I had broken my two legs and arms or couldn't move, that would probably be easier mentally," he said. "Not being able to see the injury and how severe it is, that's the toughest part about it.
"Physically, I feel like I could go out and play (today) if they let me."
Since he can't play, though, Moore has set his mind on doing the next best thing.
This fall, as his teammates chase a potential record-tying fourth consecutive state championship, Moore's been there on the sideline from Day 1. He's working with the goalies at practice, providing support during games and doing whatever else he can to help this year's team reach its potential.
"He's been invaluable," Flynn said. "Pat's a leader, he always has been, and the kids look up to him even if he isn't on the field. He's reached a point where he realizes there's still a lot he can do to contribute."
His most significant contributions have undoubtedly been his work in bringing along a goalie group that had a combined zero days of varsity experience before this year.
"In a way, I feel like I owe it to the team because they were expecting me to be back there," said Moore. "Sometimes it's hard seeing everybody playing and realizing this part of my life is over, but I take pride in watching and helping (the goalies) improve every day."
'An inspiration for us all'
Senior Ryan Miller, who has known Moore since elementary school, has assumed the starting duties in net this fall after not playing the previous three years. He says Moore's experienced perspective has been invaluable.
"There's no way I'm where I am now without him helping me, pushing me every day," said Miller, who is part of a Marriotts Ridge defense that through eight games this season has allowed only one goal.
"The first few days I wasn't diving and he was yelling at me, making me work harder. He's tough on me, but it's because he cares. I know how much this means to him."
For Martinelli, a team captain and the only active member of this year's roster that was on varsity for the state championship in 2009, Moore's presence is motivation.
"He's an inspiration for all of us," Martinelli said. "Seeing him over there cheering us on, lifting us up in the huddles … we're lucky to have him here. He's still a big part of this team."
Moore's competitive spirit will probably never go away. Martinelli points out that there are still times this season during practice that they've had to remind him to get out of the goal during drills.
The challenge now is finding ways to channel that energy into other areas, which is something that may take time to figure out. No matter what the future holds for him, though, Moore knows the most important thing is that he continues moving forward.
"The tattoo is kind of my reminder that this is just one incident in my life and, while unfortunate, it doesn't have to define who I am," Moore said. "There were so many worse outcomes to what happened that day. I could have been paralyzed. I could have died.
"The fact that I'm still here tells me there's a purpose for me beyond soccer. I'm only 17 years old, I've got my whole life in front of me."